As Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. seeks to redefine itself in the North American marketplace, the company also is looking to redefine the minivan as a vehicle consumers desire, rather than merely accept.
That means also altering the look and feel of the materials facing drivers every time they climb into the company's redesigned Quest minivan.
``We've eliminated the oceans of plastic look and placed a strong focus on color and materials,'' Jack Collins, vice president of product planning for Nissan North America Inc., said during the Quest's Jan. 5 unveiling for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Of course the automaker is not eliminating plastics, designers admit. Instead, it is seeking new ways to use the standard resins.
``Plastic is not a negative,'' said Alfonso Albaisa, associate director of Nissan Design America. ``It has to do with how we allocate funding for these things. Plastic is everywhere. It's in how you use it, whether you're interested in the grain and investing in new tooling to change the look.''
The Quest, which hits showrooms this summer, uses many of the same basic resins as its competitors, but for the vacuum formed PVC skin on the instrument panel, the Tokyo-based company opted for a molded-in-color version to match the seating. In the case of the show car displayed in Detroit, that meant an eye-grabbing orange-red tone. Other vehicles will offer gray and beige color schemes.
In place of the animal grain typically used to mimic leather, Nissan designers worked with toolmakers to develop a grain for the vinyl in the mold that carries an industrial-dot pattern, part of their vision to create a contemporary, architectural feel to the vehicle.
``The suppliers and engineers have been amazing on this,'' Albaisa said. ``The pressure was on us to move beyond the old styles.''
The Quest instrument panel also shifts the gauges to the center, rather than above the steering wheel. Additional storage now is housed on the left side of the dashboard, just above a specially created clip molded into place on the steering wheel column that can hold notes, small maps or a photograph.
``There's a new design enthusiasm, so we wanted to see what we could do if we started over,'' he said.